Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
 
RECOGNITION OF PRIOR LEARNING,
A POLITICAL AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY


Summary

 

Knowledge has become one of the cornerstones of development. The circumstances in which it can be acquired are increasing, and ways of learning are diversifying. The official recognition of each individual's skills constitutes a prerequisite for social and economic integration and advancement. Continuing education demands this recognition of academic and extracurricular achievement, because it enables the learner to take part in training processes at different stages of his or her life, and to have his or her skills accredited as part of a process of professional advancement.

The ongoing changes in the organization of work oblige companies to take the professional development requirements of their personnel into account. They also call for workers to build their own qualifications. If these qualifications are to leave their mark, they must be assessed in a credible manner. Indeed, it has become commonplace for people to move from country to country and from continent to continent, thanks to the phenomenon of globalization; this in turn calls for the implementation of prior learning recognition systems that are based on common standards and principles and that thus allow for the accreditation of credentials awarded both here and abroad. The opinions expressed in the consultations during the preparation of this brief confirm this need. Therefore, the Conseil supérieur de l'éducation calls for the Québec government, schools and universities, labour market partners and professional associations to gradually decompartmentalize their respective systems for the recognition of prior learning.

In the Conseil's opinion, the issue must be examined by going beyond the official statements of the organizations involved. Indeed, in order to solve the problems examined in the brief, institutional needs must be considered, but priority must be given to the needs of the individuals who are seeking to obtain credible records of their learning, regardless of where it was acquired, and to have it accredited. In short, recognition of prior learning must graduate from "the status of 'an essentially technical issue' (how should it be assessed?; which certification procedures should be used?), to that of a political issue that is vital to the social, economic and educational development of all nations" (Danielle Colardyn, La Gestion des compétences: perspectives mondiales). The Conseil endorses this viewpoint, and uses it as a basis for analyzing the situation, establishing directions and proposing avenues of action.

In Québec, the efforts made since the 1980s to implement recognition of prior learning have run up against rigid institutional concepts of recognition. However, this protectionist approach to individual systems has limitations. There is no way that recognition of prior learning can flourish in a world of hermetic institutional systems.

 

Some principles and their corollaries

In the first part of its brief, the Conseil sets out its basic premise: recognition of prior learning is both an element of social equity for individuals and a foundation on which to build a society. It constitutes a basic component of individual training projects and of the development of skills in the population at large.

This fundamental perspective leads the Conseil to formulate three principles which must, in its opinion, serve as a basis for analyzing the systems currently in place and determining focal points for development.

  • First principle: all persons are entitled to social recognition of their learning; however, it is incumbent upon them to prove that they have acquired such learning.
  • Second principle: persons are not required to repeat learning they have already acquired; in the recognition of learning, the important thing is what the person has learned and not where, when or how it has been learned.
  • Third principle: all prior learning recognition systems must be transparent.

The Conseil deems it important to include with these three principles, focused on individuals, three corollaries which appeal to the social responsibility of organizations, including establishments within the education network. These corollaries are:

  • Persons who have acquired learning in a given place are not required to repeat the same learning in another place.
  • Persons who have had their learning rigorously assessed and officially certified are not required to undergo the same process a second time.
  • The legislative and organizational framework in the education system must give rise to conditions that are conducive to taking into account the basic principles of prior learning recognition.

 

The status of prior learning recognition at the secondary, college and university levels

In the second part of its brief, the Conseil presents its analysis of the prior learning recognition systems used in secondary, college-level and university institutions, as well as an analysis of the specific situation of immigrants. This study is based on each level of instruction taken individually, the specific features of each legislative framework, and the various terms and conditions applicable at each level. Thus the presentation is not standardized from one chapter to the next. Although there is no advantage to be gained by harmonizing the systems, given the unique character of each level of instruction, it may be beneficial to implement, within a given system, certain conditions or practices specific to one or another of these levels.

In this section, the Conseil attempts to provide an overview by examining the recognition of prior learning systems currently used from the perspective of the principles and corollaries proposed, since the latter are the foundation of an equitable Québec-wide system. While carrying out its analysis, the Conseil observed that not all of these principles were fully respected, and thus formulated a number of recommendations and proposals.

The Conseil also noticed that efforts were being made to varying degrees, within the education system, to provide prior learning recognition services that are accessible and capable of meeting diverse needs. Institutions must exercise their social responsibility in order to ensure that everyone's right to the recognition of learning is respected. The Conseil has thus formulated recommendations to ensure that recognition of prior learning becomes a priority for educational establishments, the Ministère de l'Éducation (MEQ) and other organizations concerned.

 

Avenues of development to meet diversified needs

The recommendations formulated by the Conseil could be more easily taken into consideration if the government were to agree to make this issue a priority when implementing its policy on continuing education. In this respect, changes will have to be made to ensure that recognition of prior learning becomes a reality in organizational practices. Government decisions will also have to be made to promote the implementation of a diversified system of recognition of prior learning that will be integrated gradually, thereby facilitating the links between the various training and recognition "reference frameworks". In the last part of its brief, the Conseil sets out conditions to be put in place for this purpose.

The implementation of recognition of prior learning constitutes first and foremost a challenge for the State, which must assume its responsibilities. One of these is to ensure that citizens can exercise the right to have their learning recognized. This requires that conditions permitting access to and delivery of a learning recognition system be put in place. According to the Conseil, a central issue is that of the accreditation and "transferability" of credentials. The State must thus adopt the necessary measures so that government departments and agencies that issue these documents as part of their respective mandates are equipped to recognize, within their own system, credentials awarded outside their jurisdiction.

 

Pooling our skills directories

Québec is witnessing, particularly in the vocational education sector, the parallel implementation of labour force training programs and systems of official recognition of this training. To prevent the potential implementation of closed learning recognition systems, the establishment of links between these systems is an important challenge.

According to the Conseil, the constitution of a Québec-wide skills directory would allow for the establishment of links between skills "reference frameworks", which do not exist at present and which may never be put in place unless something is done to thwart the development of closed systems of prior learning recognition. Such a directory would not only enable the frameworks of sector-based labour force committees, professional associations and the education system to be integrated, but also those of formal training programs sponsored by employers. Naturally, each contributor to the skills directory would remain responsible for assessing and recognizing the skills within its own framework. What the directory would facilitate would be the relationship among these frameworks, in short, the establishment of links among all the partners.

Whereas the consolidation of the various prior learning recognition systems is not only unrealistic but undesirable;

Whereas the development of parallel systems of recognition is equally undesirable, especially because such an undertaking is costly and creates confusion surrounding the value of the credentials awarded and their "transferability";

Whereas the implementation of a device promoting links between "reference frameworks" is the ideal solution;

The Conseil recommends that the Minister of Education take the initiative in creating and updating a Québec-wide skills directory and in reaching an agreement with his government colleagues, including the Minister responsible for Emploi-Québec, on the measures to be adopted in this regard.

Furthermore, the Conseil recommends that the Minister set aside the necessary resources for the creation and updating of this directory, which will be based on the skills taught in the schools, colleges and universities of Québec.

Whereas the other partners in this directory will also have to contribute resources in order to include the skills of the frameworks for which they are responsible;

The Conseil invites to the Minister of Education to reach an agreement with his government colleagues on allocating financial resources for the creation and updating of the directory;

As well, the Conseil urges the Commission des partenaires du marché du travail to study the pertinence of setting aside a portion of the Fonds national de formation de la main-d'œuvre for the creation and updating of the Québec skills directory.

The development of parallel systems of recognition indisputably hinders career mobility. The Conseil advocates the establishment of diversified systems of recognition of prior learning that will be integrated gradually. If we assume that this integration will definitely go ahead and that it will take time, then government coordination of its development will be indispensable.

The Conseil recommends that the authority responsible for implementing the government's continuing education policy be mandated to devise a plan of action in this regard, and to see to the coordination of the actions of the numerous organizations concerned, thereby ensuring that the system implemented is coherent. These organizations will have to render accounts on a regular basis so that the projects under way can be effectively monitored.

Furthermore, given the important role the education system should continue to play in implementing this diversified, gradually integrated system of prior learning recognition;

The Conseil recommends that the Minister of Education lead the implementation of this system, it being understood that the orientations will be established in close collaboration with his government colleagues, without any one skills "reference framework" taking precedence over the others.

 

Research as a development and monitoring tool

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the activities of the Fonds de développement de la reconnaissance des acquis au collégial and the Centre d'information et de recherche sur la reconnaissance des acquis favoured the emergence of a conceptual approach, the analysis of projects conducted abroad and the development of tools for recognition of prior learning. Although substantial progress was achieved during this period, the Conseil considers that support for research should be increased so as to stimulate deliberation and experimentation in the field of recognition of prior learning. Due to the emphasis placed on lifelong learning, both in Québec and abroad, recognition of prior learning has attracted renewed interest in recent years. It is advisable to monitor developments, both from a theoretical and experimental standpoint, through basic and action research. In fact, in the MEQ consultation document entitled Toward a Policy on Lifelong Learning, support for research is one of the avenues of action proposed.

The Conseil recommends not only the promotion of research in the field of lifelong learning, but also that a portion of its funding be set aside for research in the field of recognition of prior learning.


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